Labour vote rises as it holds Manchester Central and Cardiff South

The party comfortably won both by-elections on an increased share of the vote, while the Tories lost their deposit in Manchester.

There was never any doubt that Labour would win the Manchester Central and Cardiff South by-elections, both constituencies having returned Labour MPs for decades, but the party will still be pleased that it managed to increase its margin of victory in each.

In Manchester, its share of the vote rose by 16.4 per cent to 69.1 per cent, with a swing from the Lib Dems of 16.8 per cent. It was a bad night for the Tories, who came within five votes of being beaten by Ukip and who lost their deposit as they received just 4.5 per cent of the vote, their lowest ever in the seat. All parties, however, will be disappointed by the turnout, which at 18.16 per cent was the lowest in any by-election since the Second World War.

In Cardiff,  Labour's share of the vote rose by 8.4 per cent to 47.3 per cent, with a swing from the Tories of 8.41 per cent, in line with that currently shown by the national opinion polls. Turnout was higher than in Manchester at 25.35 per cent.

Attention will now move to Corby, which Labour is expected to gain from the Tories, and the first-ever police and crime commissioner elections. Early signs suggest that turnout in the latter could fall to a new record low for a national election, with as few as 15 per cent of eligible voters taking part. The ignominious record is currently held by the 1999 EU Parliament election in which 23 per cent voted. With most police areas not due to begin counting until later this morning, we've just one result so far, with the Tories, as expected, winning Wiltshire. Turnout was a dismal 16 per cent.

We'll have full coverage of the PCC elections and the Corby by-election, where a result is expected around 1pm, on The Staggers.

Here are the two by-election results in full.

Manchester Central by-election

Labour 11,507 votes 69.1% (+16.4%)

Liberal Democrats 1,571 votes 9.4% (-17.2%)

Conservative 754 votes 4.5% (-7.3%)

UK Independence Party 749 votes 4.5% (+3%)

Green Party 652 votes 3.9% (+1.6%)

British National Party 492 votes 3% (-1.1%)

Pirate Party 308 votes 1.9% (N/A)

Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition 220 votes 1.3% (N/A)

Respect 182 votes 1.1% (N/A)

Monster Raving Loony 78 votes 0.5% (N/A)

People's Democratic Party 71 votes 0.4% (N/A)

Communist League 64 votes 0.4% (N/A)

 

Labour majority 9,936 (59.7%)

Turnout 16,648 (18.2%)

 

Cardiff South and Penarth by-election

Labour 9,193 votes 47.3% (+8.4%)

Conservative 3,859 votes 19.9% (-8.4%)

Liberal Democrats 2,103 votes 10.8% (-11.5%)

Plaid Cymru 1,854 votes 9.5% (+5.3%)

UK Independence Party 1,179 votes 6.1% (+3.5%)

Green Party 800 votes 4.1% (+2.9%)

Socialist Labour Party 235 votes 1.2% (N/A)

Communist Party 213 votes 1.1% (+0.7%)

 

Labour majority 5,334 (27.4%)

Turnout 19,436 (25.35%)

Labour leader Ed Miliband walks through Hyde Park after addressing TUC members earlier this month. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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North Yorkshire has approved the UK’s first fracking tests in five years. What does this mean?

Is fracking the answer to the UK's energy future? Or a serious risk to the environment?

Shale gas operation has been approved in North Yorkshire, the first since a ban introduced after two minor earthquakes in 2011 were shown to be caused by fracking in the area. On Tuesday night, after two days of heated debate, North Yorkshire councillors finally granted an application to frack in the North York Moors National Park.

The vote by the Tory-dominated council was passed by seven votes to four, and sets an important precedent for the scores of other applications still awaiting decision across the country. It also gives a much-needed boost to David Cameron’s 2014 promise to “go all out for shale”. But with regional authorities pitted against local communities, and national government in dispute with global NGOs, what is the wider verdict on the industry?

What is fracking?

Fracking, or “hydraulic fracturing”, is the extraction of shale gas from deep underground. A mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped into the earth at such high pressure that it literally fractures the rocks and releases the gas trapped inside.

Opponents claim that the side effects include earthquakes, polluted ground water, and noise and traffic pollution. The image the industry would least like you to associate with the process is this clip of a man setting fire to a running tap, from the 2010 US documentary Gasland

Advocates dispute the above criticisms, and instead argue that shale gas extraction will create jobs, help the UK transition to a carbon-neutral world, reduce reliance on imports and boost tax revenues.

So do these claims stands up? Let’s take each in turn...

Will it create jobs? Yes, but mostly in the short-term.

Industry experts imply that job creation in the UK could reflect that seen in the US, while the medium-sized production company Cuadrilla claims that shale gas production would create 1,700 jobs in Lancashire alone.

But claims about employment may be exaggerated. A US study overseen by Penn State University showed that only one in seven of the jobs projected in an industry forecast actually materialised. In the UK, a Friends of the Earth report contends that the majority of jobs to be created by fracking in Lancashire would only be short-term – with under 200 surviving the initial construction burst.

Environmentalists, in contrast, point to evidence that green energy creates more jobs than similar-sized fossil fuel investments.  And it’s not just climate campaigners who don’t buy the employment promise. Trade union members also have their doubts. Ian Gallagher, Secretary of Blackburn and District Trade Unions Council, told Friends of the Earth that: “Investment in the areas identified by the Million Climate Jobs Campaign [...] is a far more certain way of addressing both climate change and economic growth than drilling for shale gas.”

Will it deliver cleaner energy? Not as completely as renewables would.

America’s “shale revolution” has been credited with reversing the country’s reliance on dirty coal and helping them lead the world in carbon-emissions reduction. Thanks to the relatively low carbon dioxide content of natural gas (emitting half the amount of coal to generate the same amount of electricity), fracking helped the US reduce its annual emissions of carbon dioxide by 556 million metric tons between 2007 and 2014. Banning it, advocates argue, would “immediately increase the use of coal”.

Yet a new report from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (previously known for its opposition to wind farm applications), has laid out a number of ways that the UK government can meet its target of 80 per cent emissions reduction by 2050 without necessarily introducing fracking and without harming the natural world. Renewable, home-produced, energy, they argue, could in theory cover the UK’s energy needs three times over. They’ve even included some handy maps:


Map of UK land available for renewable technologies. Source: RSPB’s 2050 Energy Vision.

Will it deliver secure energy? Yes, up to a point.

For energy to be “sustainable” it also has to be secure; it has to be available on demand and not threatened by international upheaval. Gas-fired “peaking” plants can be used to even-out input into the electricity grid when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind is not so blowy. The government thus claims that natural gas is an essential part of the UK’s future “energy mix”, which, if produced domestically through fracking, will also free us from reliance on imports tarnished by volatile Russian politics.

But, time is running out. Recent analysis by Carbon Brief suggests that we only have five years left of current CO2 emission levels before we blow the carbon budget and risk breaching the climate’s crucial 1.5°C tipping point. Whichever energy choices we make now need to starting brining down the carbon over-spend immediately.

Will it help stablise the wider economy? Yes, but not forever.

With so many “Yes, buts...” in the above list, you might wonder why the government is still pressing so hard for fracking’s expansion? Part of the answer may lie in their vested interest in supporting the wider industry.

Tax revenues from UK oil and gas generate a large portion of the government’s income. In 2013-14, the revenue from license fees, petroleum revenue tax, corporation tax and the supplementary charge accounted for nearly £5bn of UK exchequer receipts. The Treasury cannot afford to lose these, as evidenced in the last budget when George Osborne further subsidied North Sea oil operations through increased tax breaks.

The more that the Conservatives support the industry, the more they can tax it. In 2012 DECC said it wanted to “guarantee... every last economic drop of oil and gas is produced for the benefit of the UK”. This sentiment was repeated yesterday by energy minister Andrea Leadsom, when she welcomed the North Yorkshire decision and described fracking as a “fantastic opportunity”.

Dependence on finite domestic fuel reserves, however, is not a long-term economic solution. Not least because they will either run out or force us to exceed international emissions treaties: “Pensions already have enough stranded assets as they are,” says Danielle Pafford from 350.org.

Is it worth it? Most European countries have decided it’s not.

There is currently no commercial shale-gas drilling in Europe. Sustained protests against the industry in Romania, combined with poor exploration results, have already caused energy giant Chevron to pull out of the country. Total has also abandonned explorations in Denmark, Poland is being referred to the European Court of Justice for failing to adequately assess fracking’s impact, and, in Germany, brewers have launched special bottle-caps with the slogan “Nein! Zu Fracking” to warn against the threat to their water supply.

Back in the UK, the government's latest survey of public attitudes to fracking found that 44 per cent neither supported nor opposed the practice, but also that opinion is gradually shifting out of favour. If the government doesn't come up with arguments that hold water soon, it seems likely that the UK's fracking future could still be blasted apart.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.